Osceola County Veterans Services Office assists local veterans

Members of the Reed City AMVETS perform the 21-gun salute during Memorial Day celebrations. Local veterans with the organization and more than 2,000 other veterans living in Osceola County have access to veterans services through the county. (Herald Review file photo)
Members of the Reed City AMVETS perform the 21-gun salute during Memorial Day celebrations. Local veterans with the organization and more than 2,000 other veterans living in Osceola County have access to veterans services through the county. (Herald Review file photo)

OSCEOLA COUNTY — More than 2,000 veterans living in Osceola County have access to veteran services and can get assistance with filing the necessary paperwork to receive benefits.

Wayne Stevens, veterans services officer for Osceola County, explained he and fellow veterans services officer Dave Blanchard provide assistance to members of the community.

“We work with all the vets and their spouses to make sure they get all the benefits they are eligible for,” Stevens said.

A large part of what the Osceola County Veterans Services Office — located in the Michigan Works! West Central building at 240 E. Church Ave. — does is assist veterans with filing claims with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The benefits veterans can apply for with help from the Veterans Services Office include loans for education, medical care and disability compensation.

However, Blanchard said they can only help people in the community with filing these claims if they come into the office for assistance.

“(The veterans or their spouses) have to come in, that’s the first step,” Blanchard said. “We’re the second step. We send it to other agencies, they are the third step and they forward it to the VA.”

He added if the VA denies a request, there is a process to appeal the decision.

Stevens explained through this process of filing claims for veterans, the Osceola County Veterans Services Office brought more than $12 million to individuals living in the county in 2016. He said this money does not go to the county to be used, but is distributed directly to individuals within the community who have filed a claim for compensation.

Although the Veterans Services Office has helped many members of the community receive compensation, Stevens and Blanchard said there are some roadblocks.

According to Blanchard, one issue they face is many individuals who come to the office do not follow up with them after their claim has been filed, so their case remains open for several years.

Stevens said although there are more than 100 open cases currently, these are not cases they have not gotten to, but rather are cases they are in the process of closing.

He explained people may receive the benefits they applied for, but if they do not let the Veterans Services Office know their claim has been resolved, the office cannot close the case and it remains open in the records.

Therefore, Blanchard and Stevens frequently attempt to contact people who opened cases more than a year ago to see if the situation has been resolved and if the case can be closed.

Another problem they identified is the Veterans Services Office does not have a millage in place or an emergency fund through Osceola County.

Although the Veterans Services Office operates based on a budget from the county and some small grants from veterans organizations throughout the year, the office does not have the money to help local veterans with emergencies and instead must direct people to other agencies for financial assistance such as American Red Cross or Salvation Army.

Blanchard said a millage or emergency fund would allow them to directly help members of the community who come in with problems such as a broken furnace in the middle of winter or car trouble when they need to be able to get to work.

He added he dislikes having to turn veterans away due to not having an emergency fund, and a millage could make it easier to offer additional assistance to those who need it.

Stevens said he has been discussing the possibility of a millage with Osceola County Coordinator Susan Vander Pol, which would cover the cost of all veterans services and emergency situations for the county, but nothing has been decided at this time.

Another potential addition to the Veterans Services Office budget could come in the form of a $2.1 million grant program proposed by state Rep. Jason Wentworth, R-Clare, which was signed into law on June 25.

The new law states each veteran service office meeting pre-approved requirements will receive $25,000; however, the county still needs to look into applying for and receiving the grant.

Vander Pol previously said after doing so she is hopeful the county will be able to receive the funding, but there is no guarantee.